A former Army trainee who fled Fort Jackson, South Carolina and hijacked a school bus full of children was found not guilty by reason of insanity last week.
Jovan Collazo, 25, will forgo prison and instead spend at least 120 days at a mental health facility following an evaluation by the South Carolina Department of Mental Health.
On the morning of May 6, 2021, Collazo was in his third week of basic training at Fort Jackson, assigned to the 1st Battalion, 61st Infantry Regiment. While his company was washing up after morning physical training, Collazo grabbed the unloaded M4 carbine he had been issued, scrambled over a fence, and flagged down a school bus full of children heading to a nearby elementary school.
“After all the kids got on the bus, the trainee got on the bus dressed in his PT clothes and with a rifle and told the bus driver he didn’t want to hurt him but he wanted him to drive to the next town,” Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said at the time of Collazo’s arrest. “So the bus driver started driving.”
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Soon after, Collazo released the passengers and briefly continued driving for a few miles on his own. He then abandoned the bus and the weapon and continued trying to flag down passing cars, before he was “arrested without incident,” according to the Richland County Sheriff’s office.
Collazo was eventually charged with 19 counts of kidnapping — one for each passenger of the bus — armed robbery, carjacking, pointing a firearm, carrying a weapon on school property and possession of a weapon during a violent crime, according to court records.
Collazo also attempted to escape jail shortly after his arrest, during which he broke his leg.
In September 2022, Collazo indicated that he would plead not guilty by reason of insanity and was ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation. Two separate reports concluded that Collazo suffers from schizophrenia and that he was unable to understand the illegality of his actions when he hijacked the school bus.
According to Collazo’s lawyer, Fielding Pringle, Collazo had begun manifesting early symptoms of schizophrenia prior to enlisting and believed someone would hurt him or his family when he made his escape attempt from basic training.
South Carolina judge Debra McClaslin upheld that finding last week, and Collazo will now undergo at least four months of psychiatric evaluation at a state facility.
“I wish you luck,” the judge told Collazo during his court appearance last week.
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